Seven-year-old Gurinder Singh had just entered class V and suddenly found himself struggling immensely with two fundamental tasks – writing and art. “Gurinder had never faced any problem in academic life. But complaints about him not finishing homework or not writing notes in the class started reaching us,” says Sandeep Singh, his mother.
This was in 2015, and Gurinder’s Hyderabad-based parents, Sandeep and Pavitter, were in a fix. Sandeep says they failed to understand the problem initially. When they asked Gurinder, he would only say that his writing speed had reduced and he was not able to cope with the writing pace of the class.
“We started analysing his writing style and technique to realise his problem. Gurinder was left-handed,” Sandeep said.
No world for left-handers
Explaining the difficulty, Sandeep said, “For left-handers, writing becomes difficult as the hand blocks the view between the eyes and the previous word written in the sentence.”
Sandeep said the natural solution to solve the issue becomes to lift the hand to increase visibility. “The position of the hand becomes like a hook and is called ‘hooked position’, which slows down the pace of writing,” she added.
The problem went beyond just writing. For example, cutting paper with scissors in craft classes also caused difficulty in holding the scissors.
“We first researched stationery products specially designed for left-handers. They were all expensive. On an online platform, a pair of scissors cost Rs 1200!” Sandeep said.
This baffled Gurinder’s parents. While they could perhaps afford the specialised stationery, it seemed strange that more people weren’t showing any entrepreneurship in this sector. They were told the cost was high because the ‘left-hand’ market was too small for it to be anything more than niche manufacturing.
“But about eight per cent of this country’s population is estimated to be left-handed. So, the left-hand population is about Rs 10 crore,” Sandeep says. They couldn’t believe Indian manufacturers were allowing such a market to just wither on the vine like that. And that’s where the idea of filling the gap themselves came to their minds.
Their first step was to approach several Indian stationery manufacturers. That went nowhere since the same old conversations of ‘scale and cost’ began to be raised repeatedly. The duo then figured they could get them manufactured and imported from the international market.
“We reached out to stationery manufacturing companies in France, Germany and other countries and showed them the potential market in India,” Sandeep said. However, imports would have kept the cost high anyway.
Let’s do it ourselves
“It took us over a year to talk to domestic and international manufacturers to convince them and provide a few stationery items at affordable Indian prices,” Sandeep said. A Pune-based company making rulers agreed to customise them for left-handed users, and a Gujarat-based entity agreed to manufacture pencil sharpeners.
Other companies agreed to customise clipboards, blade cutters and hand-writing books catering to the needs of left-handers. The other products include a pouch, clay and playing cards.
With these local vendors and the French company Maped on board, the startup, The Left Hand Shop, was born in 2016. MyLeftHand supplies scissors and pens made from Maped, while the remaining products are made in India under and sold under the brand MyLeft, registered under Diffstuff E-commerce Pvt Ltd.
“We spent seven months in figuring out how to cut down on pricing. It was agreed to cut down on profit margins, logistics and on marketing,” Sandeep explained. They decided to ship their wares along with other products in small amounts, and spend nothing on marketing.
“The Rs 1,200 Maped scissors now cost Rs 200, while a Rs 600 pencil sharpener costs Rs 28. The other products are in similar budget price ranges,” Sandeep said.
Four years on, Sandeep said the startup has about 50,000 customers and is increasing quite satisfactorily.
“We do not have an advertising or marketing budget, and the business is purely by word of mouth or online search results. Even with about 100 per cent increase in customers annually, we were only able to breakeven with investments,” she added.
The company now wants to expand beyond the stationery products.
“We are working to explore opportunities if scissors can be manufactured in India and hoping to reach a viable figure for sales on those lines,” says Pavitter. Pavitter added that there are other products – like can-openers, vernier callipers and guitars that potentially have demands.
The parents have come a long way from their struggles with Gurinder’s writing. But the journey of this startup is a lesson to us all – all problems have solutions, and quite possible a business proposition buried in them as well.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)